Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Gem Show goodies

What does the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show mean to me?  To start with, it means Netsukes:  those charming little handcarved boxwood beads that Orientals use on their sashes and closures.  To end with??  Every year is different and this one, no exception, ended with something amazing that wasn't even at the Gem Show.  You'll just have to see it all!  Like BreyerFest, the Gem Show is sensory overload.  Imagine 45+ hotels instead of one, celebrating jewelry, gemstones, lapidary, minerals, fossils, rocks and every associated craft...

My pleasant habit of attending the Gem Show each February started somewhere in the mid-2000s, when I and my husband fell so in love with Florida canoeing that we didn't want to spend Christmas vacation anywhere else.  Not even with family!  A bit of a puzzler because I still loved my parents dearly and still wanted to be with them over the holidays.  He solved everything by offering to fly me to AZ any other time.  I had known, since the 1980s, that the Gem Show happened in February.  I think my first visit was in the mid-1990s, when my tackshop was heating up and looking for supplies.  Over the years I acquired the Hill Tribes Silver beads used in Fancy's Hackamore, precious and semi-precious stones, great tools like the Precista wire brush (used in prepping Brasenose: Prepping 2018) and was exposed to technologies such as silver engraving and Argentium.  There is no doubt about it:  Jewelry-making is one strong strand of the art of making model horse tack.  Or should I say facet...
Refinement of my habit started somewhere around 2009 when I offered to get my sister jewelry in February for her Christmas present (which I could never manage on time).  She agreed.  I had always liked dabbling in the art (Something Different) and it was easy to transition over to being a hunter-gatherer-dealer for her.  Each year she would ask for one or two things, and each year I'd thus have the excuse to focus down on just them -- a godsend with so much distraction!!  Only those who have attended BreyerFest (or other gem shows) can imagine the chaos and glory of it all...  truly an overwhelming experience.
Where was I?  Oh yes, Netsukes...  So this post will show only this year's catch.  It has been a particularly good one.  Keep in mind that my sister only asked for jewelry; the Netsukes and other carvings are for me.  I added earwires (hooks) to the above, to make earrings.
2019 is the Year of the Pig.  These larger carvings are twice the size of the little ones above (and below).
I completely fell for the little ox with his braided rope halter.  When I got home I found I already had one of that pattern.  Since they're hand carved, there are subtle differences.  Look at the feet and ears:
Here is a view of their undersides.  The Chinese characters are the signature of the artist. 
If you ever think I'm immune to a cute little face, think again!!  Who could resist this?  And WHAT is he??  My guess is no one knows what a Nautilus looked like, so the carver was free to depict whatever they wanted:
Something new this year for me was bone carvings (cow).  I thought these two made a great pair.  The green frog is hiding his eyes.  "See (and Hear) No Evil."
Also new were the buttons.  You can't see them but there are wood button shanks beneath all 3 of these.
Such irresistable little animals...!  Netsukes do, of course, portray horses.  For reasons entirely personal, I have never collected them; fear of burnout, perhaps.  But that doesn't mean I haven't gone over for a white rhino!  "Where the whole silly myth got started," says Schmendrick, meaning unicorns.  My travertine rhino, above, still shows dirt in his cracks from years of rolling in his tray, just waiting....

You can guess my sister asked for blue earrings.  These originally had lengths of chain hanging from them; I took them off.
For these, I left half the chain still on.
It is hard to photograph jewelry.  The teal color below is more true.  I put the tiny glass beads on the ends of the chains.
To go with the earrings, I found a bracelet of Mexican make, silver with blue Fire Agate insets.  For this piece it was very helpful to have known the ancient art of bargaining.  Once again, the photo does not really do it justice.

The last thing my sister asked for was a suncatcher, "like from the 1970s."  Abysmally, I could not find one at the two venues I visited (Kino and Pueblo Gem & Mineral).  I looked everywhere.  I even asked.  No luck.  Instead, being in a mineral area, I found a lot of crystals.  To give you an idea of prices, the lower left was $12 and everything else altogether was $10.  The dealer gave me the broken pieces free (upper row), and I glued one back together (upper right).
Remember I said the amazing part this year was not from the Gem Show?  My budget did not cover leaded-crystal cut Swarovskis or diamonds(!).  I felt, in the end, that I was in the wrong place, and should look elsewhere for old-fashioned glass suncatchers.  On the third day, shopping for something entirely different (food), I slipped into the craft aisle of an enormous department store, and found a decorative dangle.  It was probably intended for a shade pull.
We tested it and it threw the best rainbows of all.

The greatest and only rule in collecting, for both BreyerFest and the Gem Show, is to get what you like.  Don't be afraid to like common glass or cheap crystals.  No one else need dictate what you love.  Buy what you really want and can afford (and enjoy the rest).  Let your heart be your guide.  If you are true to it, your choices will last a long time and give you great pleasure.


  1. This was fascinating! I had never heard of Netsukes. Thanks for the post!

  2. Great advice - what's the point of collecting something you don't love?